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Etch Community Spotlight with... Nichola Stott


Nichola Stott 

Founder & MD of Erudite 

The Etch Spotlight series lets you get to know the talent that makes up the Etch Community. Find out their successes and challenges, how they got started, and what they like the most about working with Etch. This week, we meet Nichola Stott, Founder & MD of Erudite.

Hi Nichola, please tell us a bit about yourself...

Hi, I'm Nichola, Managing Director at Erudite. We specialise in technical SEO as well as data insights, from setup to measurement. We're really strong in eCommerce and migration projects. We focus on challenging, complex technical search projects. And we tend to retain business for stores because it's much easier to demonstrate ROI.

Tell me your story; how did you get to where you are today? 

I'd always worked in the crossover between technology and media. Even in my early career, I worked for an electronics magazine. I then moved to PR Newswire, working on a software product, a forerunner to Gorkana-type products.  

In 2005, I became Head of Commercial Search Partners for Yahoo UK. This is where I was first exposed to search. Yahoo had a 13% market share in the UK, so they were a consideration back then. But the writing was on the wall for them, even then. For example, algorithmic search wasn't a priority. I'm not sure they understood what they bought from the search engines that formed Yahoo, Inktomi and Alta Vista. 

But despite this, I still loved SEO. I loved the data that you were exposed to. I loved all of the stories that search data tells you. So I wanted to stay in search for those reasons. And after I had my baby in 2008, I thought do you know what? I'm going to stay in search, and I'm going to start up my own business. It really gave me the motivation to do it myself. 

I set up as an independent consultant. And that went very well, very quickly. Within a year, I found myself doing 18-hour days, so I went out and got myself employee number one, and I have been growing it gently and organically ever since. 

What motivated you to become self-employed? 

I couldn't really see much of a future for search at Yahoo at that time. I loved the business and my time there - it gave me some fantastic opportunities. But it was in decline, I wasn't learning anything technical as I was in the commercial side of things, and I just wanted to move on. And I thought, okay, I want to learn, and I want to be in control of my own future and grow something that was entirely my own. 

I had a desire to stay in search, I had a good idea, and that was it. And it worked out well because I seemed to be really good at what I was doing, which should be no surprise, having some insight into how algorithms work from the inside, and exposure to larger data sets. So that set me ahead of some of the competition at the time. 

What are the best bits about running your own business? 

It is lovely to be in control of your own direction. I don't have any investors or any shareholders, so it's just about what I want out of the business for that particular period. Secondly, I never have to compromise on quality. And this is something that we're known for - almost pedantic attention to detail. For example, we won't compromise, and we won't back down, and we will end relationships with businesses that might want us to do something that we disagree with. And I guess that gives us a little bit of a particular reputation, for being completely transparent and trustworthy, always solving the correct problems. 

But at its core, the best bit is working in an area that I love. The exciting and interesting thing is taking a reputable business with some issues, some problems, some difficulties that might inhibit its algorithmic perception, unravelling the technical spaghetti and overnight, you just see a boom in improvement. That's always really rewarding.

What have you found the most challenging aspects of running Erudite, and why?  

The most challenging thing is to extract myself. It's always a difficulty for a small business owner. There'll be periods where I can't, for example, because we're a small organisation where senior-level staff can only go so far, well there might come the point where they've got as much as they can from working with me. Then they'll go somewhere else to get a bigger team beneath them or a more senior position. So, if someone reaches maturation in terms of their career progression, they've got to move out, so what that means is if someone senior moves out, I've got to step in to look after the clients and make sure that someone is giving that strategic drive. So that can be tricky to juggle sometimes. 

And what have been some of your career highlights as a small business owner?

That's a well-timed question. There are several highlights. But here's one that stands out. 

Back in 2010, we pioneered a particular type of solution. Google had created this specific type of HTML tag called hreflang. This is for multi-market eCommerce sites to distinguish their English language version for English people, as opposed to the English language version for American people. It's to stop duplication and wrong currency issues, that sort of thing. But it wasn't easy to implement. So we created a tool that would convert CSV input files into XML output files, which saved users four or five days out of the process for most people.

Anyway, it's been on our site for years and years. We have regular customers that use it, and we don't charge anything. It's an entirely free tool. And to be honest, I completely forgot it even existed. We used to get support questions, a couple, maybe two to five a week, but as people became more familiar with it and what to do, the queries stopped, and I forgot it even existed.  

Until this morning. I had an email, completely out of the blue, from a lady who works for an organisation in Australia. I'll read it to you actually because it's super sweet, "thank you so much for creating your free XML sitemap tool for hreflang tags. You saved me so much time, and I want to hug you all." Isn't that nice?

And so doing things like this are rewarding. Usually, every year we'll do a pioneering R&D project that has been industry-leading. For example, we created the first progressive web APP. And we did a lot of work looking at mobile SEO best practices, benchmarking the UK marketplace and the state of the UK marketplace against what we could consider like PWA criteria. A couple of years ago, we did a web accessibility project where we benchmarked the top 1,000 websites in the UK, which tends to be well received by the SEO community.

What are you currently working on with Etch? 

We're currently working on a project with a high-end interior business. We are systematically working through the site on some of the more extensive eCommerce areas to optimise and release additional ROI. When it comes to such large sites, where there are up to half a million URLs, when it comes to SEO, it needs to be led with technical SEO first. 

How did working with Etch come about? 

I've known of Etch for years. Back in the days when we all had offices, we worked nearby. And we used to run an event called Digital Hampshire, which was a quarterly speaking get-together. I remember meeting the Etch team at one of the first events we ran, where I met Emma Budd for the first time.  

Also, I've known Sarah Jane Walker for a long time. She worked with my first technical director back in 2010. I met Sarah Jane at an awards do and have just kept in touch loosely by the socials, as you do. And from there, the opportunity to help Etch's partners with their Technical SEO requirements came about. 

How does working with Etch compare to other agency groups? 

Etch is probably the only other agency that we've worked with directly where it's been seamless. A total meeting of the minds. We are about to work with another agency that also does technical SEO, and again, we're on the same level.

But since we've worked with Etch, it's been brilliant. You know you don't need to over-explain anything. There are processes in place. There's documentation, and people are on top of everything. The communication channels are all there; for example, we're all on Slack. And the people are approachable as well. 

So, it feels like we're all in an extended office. Rather than a support function where we have to send stuff up and are kept out of the conversation, we're more of a collaboration of peers. This is far more fruitful when it comes to the strategic direction of the work that you do as well. So yeah, all those things are what I love about working with Etch.

Great, and what does the future of Erudite look like? 

We're looking to grow again over the next six to twelve months. Since the pandemic's start, we had to dig our heels in as we lost some of our travel clients. So, we rebranded and invested a lot in marketing. It's been a lot of hard work.

But now we're coming out of the pandemic, and things are picking up again. It's getting very busy, so we need to make sure we're scaling appropriately. It's going to be a fascinating period of growth as we look to make some much-needed changes. So watch this space.  

James Perrin was speaking to Nichola Stott as part of the Etch Community Spotlight series. The Etch Community gives digital professionals a platform to grow, and a place to belong. It is for freelancers, business owners, and fellow agencies looking to grow their business by plugging into a community of top digital talent. Visit The Etch Community for more information.